A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer

10Nov/13Off

A Mutant’s Life

In case you haven't heard, I'm working on a new project. I'm bringing the apocalypse to the Archmage Engine!

Although I have a mental image for what I want this project to be, I've been curious as to what everyone else wants it to be. So I've been doing some research, acquiring rulebooks and reference materials for every other post-apocalyptic game system I can find. And, I must say, it's been somewhat interesting.

Mutations

One thing I've seen addressed time and time again is the concept of mutations. In a post-apocalyptic world, where you have to watch your step or you might fall in to a crater of radioactive sludge, everyone has a mutation of some sort. Some might be cosmetic, while others might be unbelievable. But almost all post-apocalyptic systems seen to expect mutations to be present, and actually they are expected to be quite common.

Tables of Tables

Most game systems I've seen provide massive tables and pages upon pages of information regarding mutations, and how they function both stylistically and mechanically. For example, the one system I currently have open next to me has over 120 possible mutations and spends close to 20 pages of fine print detailing them.

Although I understand that that's what people might want, the ability to customize their character with that level of detail, that kind of goes contrary to the principles of 13th Age and the Archmage Engine. 13th Age has been designed to be simple, providing only the rules that are necessary, and leaving everything else to be nothing more than a mutual understanding between player and GM.

Nowhere in the 13th Age book is there a d100 table that spans two pages, and I think that's by design. Providing something like that, with hundreds of possible mutations, goes contrary to everything the system was meant to be.

A Different Apocalypse

As I mentioned, most of these game systems also go with the assumption that mutations are common in the apocalypse because it was inevitably brought on by nuclear holocaust. Humans were stupid... they couldn't resist pushing the big red button... and here we are.

Does that have to be the case? An apocalypse can happen for a variety of reasons - nuclear war, meteor strike, zombie plague, aliens... - only a handful of which would have genetic mutation as a side effect.

My plan was actually to either make the apocalypse a result of various events, all occurring almost simultaneously, and their collective chaos causing the downfall of humanity. Either that or simply not define what caused the apocalypse at all, leaving it up to the DM to decide what caused the world to be how it is now.

Regardless of which approach is taken, mutations do not seem to be a requirement. At least to me, that is.

Limiting Options

All that being said, I'm considering not providing mutations in the same manner, or at least not providing mutations that are based on radioactive exposure.

What I'm envisioning is that a player can customize their character using a specific set of possibilities:

  • Cybernetic implants, upgrades or other technology brought on by advanced science. Anything from bionic arms to electronic eyes.
  • Biologic augmentation, brought on by advances in biology and genetic alterations. Not exactly mutations since that word does have negative connotations. This covers things from having an improved muscular and nervous system to having wings. It can also include cosmetic things like a forked tongue, but I'd like to keep those as options the player has chosen through science rather than a side effect of radiation exposure.

If you want to have a character that has some sort of genetic mutation, you're welcome to do so. But, unless you come to a mutual agreement with your GM, it will not have any mechanical impact. Only the above, which will be a somewhat limited set, will have a documented impact. Everything else is fair game but up to mutual acceptance.

Diversity of Races

Then the question comes up: what races should the game have? I wanted to have the two basic types: human (organic) and android/robotic (inorganic), but what to do beyond that? Given sufficient customization using the above I imagine that those two options would get the most play, but I still wanted to provide other options for diversity. But those options can't be something that could also be brought on by mutation or they would be redundant... I originally thought of a race that would have wings, but in thinking about it that's not much different than a human who has chosen to grow wings and darker skin. The races need to stand out.

That being said, I am choosing to create races based on animal and plant life, not direct descendants of human. Currently that includes sentient plants, insects and reptiles. All three of these currently have corresponding icons in the game world, so it kind of fits.

Furthermore, I am considering the possibility of providing a tight framework by which you can define your own class. Want to be a sentient rabbit with a gun? OK... Here's a list of racial attributes and powers you can choose from... Pick two or three. That covers the mechanics, which don't care whether you're a six foot tall rabbit with a gun or not; anything else is flavor text and up to you and the DM.

Feedback Requested

So I have to ask the question: for those of you that have expressed interest in a post-apocalyptic game setting... What are you looking for in terms of mutations? Do you want a 20-page long list of possibilities? Do you want the option of mutations at all, at least in the same form that's common amongst other post-apocalyptic game systems?

8Nov/13Off

The Archmage Beckons

A long time ago I did some content for a certain game system who, for reasons you may already know, will remain nameless. I was rather enthusiastic about that game system/campaign setting, but I was denied the option of using it to publish content.

But I really liked what that game system brought to the table, and ever since then I've been thinking about what it would take to publish a full, standalone RPG based on some of those concepts.

For months, maybe years, I've looked for a system by which to make it a reality... and I think I've found it.

Recently, Pelgrane Press and Fire Opal Media released the Archmage Engine SRD, which is the driving force behind 13th Age. And it is everything that I wanted it to be!

So this is a formal announcement of sorts... I have begun development of an RPG, using the existing Archmage Engine framework but all new content. A "total conversion", if you will. The premise? A post-apocalyptic society where the stupid decisions of man compounded with nature's urge to make our lives miserable has led to a changed, unforgiving world filled with destruction and chaos. It is inspired by the-system-that-shall-remain-nameless, by lesser known systems such as the now defunct Alpha Omega by Mind Storm Labs (which is a beautiful book and has a brilliant back story, but the game mechanic is one of the worst I've ever seen), and by movies and other pop culture (from Mad Max to Oblivion).

The RPG will be centered upon a dramatically changed United States, mainly because I don't want to have to worry about long distance or overseas travel. The way I see it, the U.S. is not much larger than the Dragon Empire is in 13th Age, so it kinda works.

I have a personal dilemma, though: the-system-that-shall-remain-nameless has a reputation for being, short of a better word, zany. It's one thing to have genetic mutation, and it's another to have those genetic mutations create some of the most cooky, off-beat, "you're kidding, right?" type of monsters the mind can imagine. And there are games like Numerena that contain similar aspects but try to maintain a level of seriousness and are not rife with over the top absurdity.

My hope is to do both. I'm keeping the icons and classes as serious as possible given the circumstances, but the monsters are going to be somewhat of a mixed bag. It will be up to DM's discretion on how to use them.

Right now, if you're curious, I have planned:

  • 10 brand new icons, from massive self-aware supercomputers to sentient plants
  • 6 "races", and I use that term loosely because I'm not sure if to consider a robot a "race".
  • 8 classes, from the battle tested veterans to wasteland berserkers to "channelers" that can bend the fundamental laws of physics ("Laws of Thermodynamics are more of a suggestion than a rule" sort of thing).
  • New rules for augments (socketable items that can increase performance like magic items), mutations and other forms of genetic modification.
  • Basic vehicle and mount rules.
  • Expanding a little on traps and hazards, based somewhat on what I've already talked about on this blog.
  • Monsters, lots of them.

My intention with all this is, once I have enough written, to launch a Kickstarter to fund the project in full and get the thing published. But that won't happen until I have a comfortable amount written, and there's still a long way to go.

And, once this hits Kickstarter, the two projects I've had shelved for far too long - The Fortress of Dr. Neb and When Worlds Collide - will no doubt be stretch goals (after some obvious changes, of course).

So there you have it... my crazy dream. Hopefully I can make it a reality sooner than later, and if I decide to go the distance on this I hope some of you will be willing to back me up on it.

Stay tuned to this blog for more news on this project.

-=O=-

In the meantime, as yet another form of practice, I decided to make the vector Archmage Engine SRD logo I made available for everyone to use! That is, at least until the 13th Age guys create one for real.

Archmage Engine SRD logo (1.51Mb)

The above link contains the logo in multiple formats: Fireworks, Illustrator 10, Illustrator CS6 and flat JPEG.

 

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